The European Commission has approved France’s plan to ban short-haul flights when there is a decent rail alternative, but it will only affect three routes.
In 2021, French lawmakers voted to ban short-haul domestic flights when there is an alternative rail connection of two and a half hours or less. The initial proposal, which required the green light from Brussels, was to affect eight routes.
Now the Commission has said the ban can only take place if there are genuine train alternatives available for the same route, i.e. several direct connections in each direction each day.
This means that only three routes will currently be prohibited: journeys between Paris-Orly and Bordeaux, Nantes and Lyon.
The EU executive said France was justified in introducing the measure provided it is “non-discriminatory, does not distort competition between air carriers, is no more restrictive than necessary to solve the problem”.
Three more routes could be added – between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Lyon and Rennes, and between Lyon and Marseille – if rail services improve.
These routes currently do not meet the threshold because travelers trying to reach Paris and Lyon airports do not have a rail connection that would bring them early enough in the morning or late enough in the evening.
Two other proposed routes were excluded from the measure because the train travel time exceeds the two and a half hour limit.
The Commission has also scrapped a proposed exemption from the ban that the French government wanted to apply to domestic flights that are part of a multi-stop international journey. The comprehensive measure is only expected to last three years, with a review after two years, he said.
“This is a major step forward and I am proud that France is a pioneer in this field,” French Transport Minister Clément Beaune said in an emailed statement.
Environmental groups were also encouraged by the Commission’s approval, but stressed the country needed to do much more to decarbonise transport.
“The French ban on short-haul flights where fast rail links exist is a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Thomas Gelin, head of the European climate campaign at Greenpeace.
French Green MEP Karima Delli describe the news as a “victory”, but said the legislation should have been extended to cover flights which could be replaced by a four-hour train journey.
It was the original idea of the flight ban as proposed by the French Citizens’ Convention for the Climate, a citizens’ assembly responsible for making proposals to reduce the country’s carbon emissions. The scope was narrowed following objections from some French regions and the Franco-Dutch airline Air France-KLM.
Delli also argued that private jets should be included in the measure. Beaune said this summer he wanted to see more EU-wide action against private jets, following the popular backlash against them in France.